Apr 11 2013

Collaborative restoration rebuilds the forests of the Pacific Northwest


Our forest lands are caught in the middle of an epic struggle.  Demand for forest products is perpetually increasing, fueled by global market pressures and the thirst for economic growth and the jobs and prosperity it brings. At the same time, dedicated conservation groups are working harder than ever to protect fragile forest lands from potentially harmful harvest activities.

This discord frequently bubbles up in the public discourse, as proposals for new harvests are made and then lawsuits filed to prevent their execution, in an expensive and taxing process that ties up the legal system and breeds ill will between different groups of citizens.

Meanwhile, the forests of the American West continue to suffer. Decades of intensive logging practices and fire suppression, coupled with massive outbreaks of infestations and disease, have left vast tracts of forest unhealthy, overcrowded, undernourished, and at risk of exploding into flame at the first suggestion of a spark

(Photo at left: The mountain pine beetle has killed the majority of trees near Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon, putting the area at risk for a major fire. Photo from

As our parent non-profit Sustainable Northwest has shown, there is a perfect solution that addresses all of these problems, with results that please all participating parties: Collaborative restoration.

Collaborative restoration brings industry, environmental groups, and local and federal government officials to the same table to work out solutions that benefit all of the stakeholders while improving forest health.  It sounds like a tall order, but it can be done -- and is being done, thanks to the dedication of Sustainable Northwest.

An example of the success of collaborative restoration can be seen in Grant County, Oregon.  Grant County used to support four sawmills, but as the economy contracted in the 80's and as the timber in Malheur National Forest became harder to procure due to increasing environmental pressures, three of those mills closed and hundreds of local families were left without jobs or a reliable income.  

(Photo at right: Sustainable Northwest staffers meet with members of the Blue Mountain Forest Partners to discuss forest restoration.)

In 2006, Sustainable Northwest stepped in and helped found the Blue Mountain Forest Partners, which consists of representatives from the remaining mill; environmental lawyers and non-profits that had previously filed suit against the Forest Service to prevent additional harvests; foresters from the Forest Service; local government officials; and other interested individuals. 

Together, these disparate groups worked together to draft a plan to restore forest health, reducing the risk of uncharacteristic wildfire while allowing some logs to be harvested to feed the mill.

Because of the collaborative's work, no lawsuits have been filed in 6 years.  The restoration work has resulted in significantly improved forest health in the areas in which it has been done, and planned restoration work is growing to tens of thousands of acres in the coming years.  And the local mill has been able to stay open and provide jobs for many families in Grant County.  

The group has been heralded as a model for other regions, and its success has garnered the attention of Senators Wyden and Merkley, who have pledged support for collaborative restoration projects.

(Photo at left: Strawberry Lake in Malheur National Forest attracts many visitors each year and is home to a rich variety of animal and plant life.)

As Sustainable Northwest's president Martin Goebel says, "We must help timber communities flourish to restore the health and resilience of forests, watersheds and wildlife habitats. We all reap the 'harvest' from forest health--clean air, water, abundant wildlife and landscapes that define our love of place."